Experts say that urban sprawl, climate change walk wildfire risk

RESCUE, California. – A fire that began in a rural community in Northern California, underscores a new reality in the state as a day later it suddenly roared through the neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city of Redding: Urban areas are increasingly vulnerable to forest fires.

In the last year, districts in the Northern California wine country, city of Santa Rosa and the Southern California beach town of Ventura are destroyed.

Warmer weather attributed to climate change is drying out the vegetation, creating more intense fires that spread rapidly from the countryside to the city breaks, climate and fire, say the experts. But also the debt of municipalities that are extension of the housing in a previously mined areas.

“There are just places were there should not be breaks,” said Kurt Henke, a former fire chief in Sacramento, which now serves as a consultant fire organizations. “We’re not talking about a single family that wants to build a house in the woods. I’m talking about subdivisions encroaching in wild land urban interface that they are in the path of this destructive fire.”

Henke wants more money from the state legislature for the implementation of the fire service to areas where conditions are ripe for fast moving fires, so they can react quickly when a fire breaks out.

The fire that affected Salvation, a city of about 92,000 people about 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of San Francisco began Monday about 10 miles (16 kilometers) to the west of the city for the sweep Thursday to the historic Gold Rush town of Shasta, and near Keswick. Then jumped in the Sacramento River and took breaks on the western outskirts of Redding.

Redding is at the north end of the agricultural Central Valley, surrounded by a picturesque landscape. It has a center with a theater and wine bar, and houses scattered in subdivisions.

Two firefighters killed — one of the Rescue Fire brigade and the other a bulldozer operator hired for the fire. Hundreds of houses were destroyed and almost 40,000 people were under evacuation orders.

Like the fire in Santa Rosa, and Ventura last year, wind was a major cause of the fire is spread.

“It is ripping trees out of the ground and throwing them to the other side of the street, in the houses,” Chad Carroll, a spokesman for CalFire said Friday. “That is strange and unusual.”

Calfire Director Ken Pimlott discusses the fire activity during a press conference on Friday as almost like a “tornado.”

“What we see here is not only in Shasta County, but literally, burn which have been grown exponentially,” he said.

While touring Ventura County districts was destroyed by a fire last year, Gov. Jerry Brown said the drought and climate change mean California is facing a “new reality” where lives and property are continually threatened by the fire.

The state is experiencing a prolonged period of higher temperatures and drought that large fires for almost the whole year by the possibility, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“What we see with some of the most dangerous fires is that they spread quickly, burn very hot or produce their own weather,” he said.

Still, he agreed with other experts who say that the destruction was the result of more people living closer to fire-prone areas.

“Over the years, we have more people in harm’s way,” he said. “More people in areas with high fire risk than normal.”

The fire in Santa Rosa in October 2017, nearly destroyed 2,700 homes, including in an area with expensive new subdivisions on a hill on the outskirts of the city. The blaze in Ventura two months later, destroyed more than 500 buildings.

Jacque Chase, an urban planning expert at California State University, Chico, said the U.S. government statistics show more homes are going in across the country in areas that are on the border of the urban areas and wastelands. That increases the risk of fire, caused by human activity. It also means firefighters have to their approach.

“They have to do with actually saving lives and saving property,” she said.


Associated Press writer Sudhin Thanawala reported from San Francisco.

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